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U.S. trade representative to speak on Biden's plans with China

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden is trying to walk a delicate line - how to keep pushing a key priority of former President Trump without seeming to endorse anything done by former President Trump. Today, Biden's top trade official is expected to call out China for failing to live up to the trade agreement brokered under Trump. And while the White House has been critical of Trump's decision to start the trade war with China in the first place. For now, it's keeping the key element of that war in place. We're talking about tariffs.

NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now to talk more. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: The U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, is expected to give this big speech this morning. She's going to lay out the Biden administration's approach to trade with China. Do you know what she's expected to say?

KHALID: Yes. You know this White House says that its goal is to protect American workers and grow the economy for folks here at home. I was on a background call with some senior administration officials yesterday, and they did repeatedly emphasize that point. There is also no plan, though, to immediately get rid of the Trump trade pact with China. That's that so-called Phase 1 deal. In fact, today, Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade rep, will say that she intends to have frank conversations with her counterpart in China about the fact that China has not complied with its end of the deal.

Now, the White House insists that, overall, its trade vision is a departure from Donald Trump, who they say acted chaotically and isolated allies. And they emphasize that they are working methodically and in coordination with allies around the world. Their thinking is that the U.S. economy alone is not strong enough. But it could lead to more tangible change if they, say, work with Europe and Japan. But Rachel, really, you know, to be frank, the Biden administration is not abandoning the Trump Phase 1 deal, nor is it planning to quickly lift the Trump-imposed tariffs. So, you know, as you were saying, I think it's just a really delicate line to walk of how you maintain some policies of your predecessor while also trying to create some distinctions.

MARTIN: All right. So let's talk about that. I mean, leaving the tariffs in place as the Biden administration has been doing, that has opened them up to criticism, right?

KHALID: It has. You know, I will say, some U.S. companies for months have been saying that the tariffs are a tax. They're saying that U.S. consumers are hurt by the tariffs. And they've been vocally calling for change - at least the ability, they say, to get an exemption for some products. To date, there has been no general mechanism to do that under President Biden.

The administration today is announcing that it's reopening the tariffs exclusion process, specifically, the White House says, to mitigate the effects of certain tariffs that have not generated any strategic benefits and raise costs on Americans. But it is noteworthy to point out that the administration has also not ruled out the possibility in the future of applying additional tariffs.

MARTIN: Explain more, Asma, about what makes China an especially difficult problem for the Biden administration.

KHALID: You know, Rachel, this idea of working with allies, I will say, it only works, folks tell me, if your allies agree to come along with me. And thus far, it's not entirely clear that the Europeans want to pressure China as strongly as the United States. But I will say, overall, the U.S. trade relationship with China is no longer really just about whatever president is sitting in the Oval. It's about domestic politics. You see polling that shows that a large, you know, percentage of Americans have an unfavorable view of China. This is a bipartisan opinion. And experts say there's really just no appetite to go back to this world of open markets and free-trade philosophy that dominated American trade politics for years.

I was talking to Chad Bown about this. He's with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

CHAD BOWN: It's clear. There's no going back. Things have changed politically domestically in the United States, but also China has changed as well. China, under President Xi, has become much more state oriented.

KHALID: And Rachel, you know, I will say that even if some economists say that - tariffs, they say, are not a perfect tool, there is increasingly a bipartisan consensus that perhaps they are a tool that can give the United States some leverage and, frankly, that this trade relationship isn't just about the economy. They say it's also about national security.

MARTIN: NPR's White House correspondent, Asma Khalid - thank you, Asma.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.